This is the place where I share my views on the books I read and my lessons from it. Here is the phrase I coined for my love of books:
Books are assailants that attack the virgin minds unassaulted by the thoughts heretofore.
Unlike to what I have been seeing in the world — the intellectual-yet-idiots spanning from India to the UK to the USA who have no skin-in-the-game but some Ivy league and Oxbridge degree labels branded on their bodies; while telling us what to do, what to eat, how to speak, and who to vote for — this book examines the intellectuals in the medieval ages. More particularly, it provides an exegesis of intellectuals who are tinkerers and pompous thinkers sitting in the academy, as well as those humanist laboring with luxe calm et volupte. Translated from the French, by Jacques Le Goff, this book is heavily suffused with French words and names that I am unfamiliar with — which made the book look ladened with recondite information, which, of course, it is not! However, despite my modest knowledge of the European intellectuals during medieval ages, the perspicuity in the author’s narration had let me sail through the book effortlessly. This book spans from the birth of the intellectuals in the medieval age to the fall of the intellectual era by the end of the middle age. It seems, from the author’s writing, that the intellectuals in the middle ages were rebellion, goliards who did not concur or succumb to society. Abelard, amongst the other intellectuals, according to the author, although a goliard, is the first intellectual in the medieval age.
The rebellious nature of Abelard becomes noticeable from the lines he wrote of Anslem, the old theologian:
This old man owned his reputation more to his advanced age than to his talent or culture. All those who approached him to have his advice on a subject about which they were uncertain left even more uncertain. […] to this tree, therefore, when I had come that I might gather fruit from it, I understood that it was the fig-tree which the lord cursed.
Abelard in another instance, he writes: it was the philistines who kept their knowledge to themselves and prevented both themselves and other from benefiting from it.
It is also noteworthy that the intellectuals in the middle age never quarreled with their ancients in the sense they had no quarrels with their intellect or ideas. Even more so, they read ancients every day.
To my mind, today’s intellectuals, have no skin-in-the-game, and worse, I consider them to be iatrogenesists, while they consider nobles. Yes, nobles unfit for war. They remain dumbfounded at the sight of a child’s book as before a sudden theatrical spectacle, for they are unaware of any damn thing and are nothing but a disguised charlatans, quacks, shills and mountebanks! To put into words of papal legate, Benoit Gaetani: all these idiots imagine they have huge reputation as scholars among us, while I consider them as fools among fools who have infected both themselves and the entire world with their doctrine …
Any book or idea that is statistically oriented — barring the book on statistics per se — should be taken with a truckload of skepticism; however, the fact that this book falls in the mediocristan radar of statistics made my read like a walk through boulevards. The author in this book made a salubrious effect in exposing the health gradient seen in the society — the higher the status in the pecking order the healthier people are likely to be: which is what author calls status syndrome. Michael Marmot, in his dialectic and syllogistic approach — lays bare — no holds barred — how one’s social standing in society affects health adversely or favorably. For a given biological agent and cause, the author soberly writes, the people in the lower strata are more likely to be affected. This cannot be mistaken for lack of money or other facilities. In fact, the author trenchantly says that when the problems of privation have been solved, how much money you have is not as important as how much you are relative to others in society. More emphatically, what characterizes being poor and lower in the hierarchy is a great sense of helplessness — lack of control over life circumstances. The author ominously adds that poverty is more than a lack of money, it is more of circumstances we live. The line from John Kenneth: who can say for sure that the deprivation which afflicts him with hunger is more painful than the deprivation which afflicts him with the envy of his neighbors car — is as gravely a concern as it appears sardonic. It is this sense of helplessness, this lack of control that affects one’s biological stress pathways.
What separates one from another in the pecking order, according to the author, are the control, predictability, degree of support, threat to status. These factors modulate the impact of psychologically threatening stimulus — and all of them likely to be linked with social hierarchy. While the point the authors makes drives home already, my view on the observed support from the bottom-up social hierarchy directly follows from my favorite line by Lyndon Johnson: it is no longer easy to get the help you need when you are no longer on the top of the world (here replace the world with social hierarchy). This support one relishes is the comportment of a fawning man indulging in the excess of hobnobbing. To conclude — each of us has several roles, whether as a parent, partner, child, employer, employee, resident, citizen, opinion former, etc.; and whatever roles we assume has an important influence on our own opportunities for self-realization, or autonomy and social-participation. These are not just pleasant things to have, but also immensely affects health if thwarted. The fact we systematically thwart these for people lower in the hierarchy is a massive blot on a civilized society.
“Your chances of being in a favorable or unfavorable situation in adulthood will have much to do with what happened to them earlier in life: security of attachment, pre-school environment, schooling, the neighborhoods in which they grew up, opportunities for higher education, quite apart from the genetic endowment.”
3. Social inequalities in health — the social gradient — are not a footnote to the ‘real’ causes of ill-health but are the heart of the matter.
— K. Satyanarayana 🇸 (@satyakatla) June 22, 2019
It seems that Taleb and I share a certain esprit de corps indulging in proverbial jousting and burying the lance in the chest of pseudo-intellectuals and blokes engaging in casuistry — and exsanguinate them to death and inter their bones in the Pacific trench. A gush of joy vastly more than that is available in the world erupts like a pyroclastic flow, like a geyser, every time I read Taleb’s book. In his series of books on incerto, this is the last book [not in the series] which was outstanding to be read before now. Taleb, the proverbial skewer of the intellectual-yet-idiots who can’t find a coconut on the coconut island – asphyxiate the pseudo-intellectuals, the charlatans, the mountebanks, by depriving them of their credibility. Coming to the book Antifragile: it expatiates how life, business, or anything else, gain from randomness/volatility/uncertainty, contrary to what majority of people in a given field, by dint of specialization and empty-suitedness, completely miss. Fragility is what loses from volatility and uncertainty. Everything nonlinear is convex or concave, or both, depending on the intensity of the stressor. Taleb argues in the book that everything that is convex in nature is antifragile, by Jensen’s inequality, and you are better off by keeping things distributed than concentrated. In the world, Taleb marvels, randomness is distributed rather than concentrated, which makes it less volatile and prone to more (criminal) risks in the future. The belief that the world is getting safer and safer is like saying nuclear bombs are safer because they explode less often. Furthermore, Taleb observes portentously, in an antifragile system, the good news tends to be absent from past data, and for a fragile system, the bad news doesn’t show easily. I end this review by my oft-repeated line on Taleb: the more I read the more I get a sense that is it a serendipity or am I preordained to know this guy, for he (or I) share exactly the same view I (or he) hold(s) of the society, of the pseudo-scientists, of the pseudo-intellectuals who think they know-it-all. I have tried to maintain a twitter thread for my note-taking, so you can find on how Taleb flays the skin of the charlatans who produce a mountain heap of baloney!
— K. Satyanarayana 🇸 (@satyakatla) June 18, 2019
I begin by writing my favorite lines of Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson:
Leadership success does not necessarily be obtained by attaching oneself to a series of titled positions. Leadership had to be earned; it is not something to be granted by rank or title.
The way you get ahead in today’s world, you get close to those that are the heads of things. It’s no longer easy to get the help you need when you are no longer on the top of the world
This book chronicles the four luminaries who served as the major pillars of America that is today: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Amongst these towering figures, the travails Theodore Roosevelt had undergone before he finally became the youngest President of America is both electrocuting and electrifying. Despite being born in a privileged family, T. Roosevelt believed, not anything like many others, that privilege can stunt ambition, just as the lack of privilege can fire ambition. “The light has gone out of my life,” writes T. Roosevelt, after the consecutive demises, of his both wife and mother, on the same day — it was a grim and evil fate — which made him a full-blown stoic fatalist. After his unfortunate turn in the political affairs, he — discovered that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train — was debarred from the party. Unlike candlelight that had been snuffed out, he retreated himself into the lap of nature with a deadend heart and fear of intimacy, for two years, only to become a genuine luminary, guide and leader. This book, although, recounts gripping anecdotes of the other three American leaders, who are like rocks in a polishing cylinder brought to shine by tumbling contact with a wide variety of people, I felt disconnected when the book focussed on politcking and the political minutiae of America — as never have I had an interest in American politics as much I have never had an interest with Russian politics. However, these four men, [maybe I should add ‘myself’ into the list after a few years, who knows, I am as fatalistic as T. Roosevelt ;-)] are exemplaries of proving that great characters are formed not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station — they are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. “The best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely alive and active. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, ‘This is the real me!’ “
Let me begin by hoping that I do not earn the opprobrium of my Pakistani friends for writing a review of the book titled ‘Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State.’ This book extensively censures Pakistan in her ideology, the policies she fostered and the hatred she harbored on her inveterate rival and neighbour, India. Although this book presents a one-sided view, by a Pakistani author inveighing and while I am coming from the other side of the faultline, I share the views of the author proffered in the book. However, I avow that I do not share the prejudices and opinions on Pakistan that my fellow countrymen hold. Frank Herbert once wrote “empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual” — this is very much germane to a country like Pakistan. The adoption of Islam and antagonism toward India had laid the foundations for the creation of Pakistan in 1947. But the adoption of Islam as the basis of nationhood, writes Husain trenchantly, instead of as a system of beliefs designed for spirituality or piety, has contributed to social anarchy, political conflict and sectarian strife. Although India has accepted Pakistan as a Nation, Husain argues in the book that the Pakistani leaders are in the sense of fear that India would undermine, ridicule and disapprove the ‘two-nation theory’. While Pakistan tries to seek parity with India, her ideology of Pakistan nurtures extremist Islamism and obstructs her evolution as a normally functionally state. Thus, Husain gravely writes, only by reimagining itself can Pakistan find peace with itself and its neighbors and stop being viewed by the rest of the world as an international migraine. The author also expatiates in this book, on significant fissures and the inconsistencies that plague Pakistan, which are: It is a South Asian state aspiring to be part of the Middle East; it has adopted a radical version of Islamic orthodoxy as a state ideology even though its people’s practice heterodox sufism; it is generally allied to the West while being suspicious of, and being suspected by, Western nations; it’s largely authoritarian even as it speaks of itself as a democracy; it’s a nuclear power but still remains ‘insecure’; and even in periods of foreign-funded economic growth, it is unable to attain internal political or economic stability. Husain further adds that for Pakistan to survive, she needs to grow economically sufficiently, integrate globally, and not just sticking to thinking excessively on security. Now coming to the writing of the book, it is soporifically written as well as repetitive in a few places; and I find the last chapter of the book redundant and unnecessary.
A bolt of lightning streaked through my heart as the unearthly steeds bolted forward when the rutilant Krishna flicked the reins of his chariot while the lion-tailed monkey, Hanuman, emblazoned alive on its banner and the lambent Arjuna standing like a colossus with his Gandiva gifted by the God of Fire clasped in his hand. A spasm of a joy twitched my eyes as the Nara Narayana surge toward the phalanx lead by the eighth Vasu, Bheeshma, to face the most contemptuous creature on the earth then, Duryodhana; albeit, there are worse men than Duryodhana in this world of us today, in different shades? As I previously mentioned [Vol. 1], it is excruciating to write a review on a book that dictates the very nature of mortal beings. Mahabharata is a portal to unborn generations in which Krishna spilled his words at the crossroads of the mythic universe. The sluice gates of my heart were flung open as the scintillating river of holy light flowed from Krishna through my aorta. The book is so opalescently flushed with poetic illustrations that it begs a question: Did Vyasa reincarnate in Ramesh Menon’s body, or is the latter possessed by the former to carry out this narration of Mahabharata to the blokes of the 21st century? Although nothing can be said with certainty in this fleeting world, I say with as much certainty as the sun rises in the east that this book blesses the reader with an infinite bliss as the latter gets carried on the smooth undulating wave of this epic. Not a night passed without reading this book ever since I picked it up; there came a situation where I suffered from abibliophobia as I indulgently read this magnum opus. Therefore, I tried to eke out the book until today! [You might want to read my review of Vol. 1]
It was 26 Dec. 2018 and the clock struck 11.00 PM while my hands reached out to the book titled “Half – Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India”, I gleefully leafed through the first few pages that include preface and contents; and then the book opened with the first chapter titled “Half-Burnt Body”. I began reading the chapter studiously, religiously and with as much joy only to end up with a paroxysm of rage, hatred, commotion, and disbelief toward the Italian woman, Sonia Maino. My blood began to boil thinking about the ill-treatment and the humiliation Rao had faced in his death — the images of P.V. Rao came alive to me — I was disturbed and had only fitful sleep for two consecutive nights. To gather my poise and composure back, I shelved the book for a later time and began reading “the Mahabharata”. It was only after having a didactic read from the Mahabharata, I picked this book up again one and a half month later. My review of the book begins here: If one has to judge a prime minister by what he inherited and what legacy he left behind, Rao inherited economic rubbles and has left a legacy that manifests in the everyday lives of most Indians. Unlike many other biographies, which are mostly hagiographic in nature, this book presents Rao playing both the lion and the mouse. Rao’s main political stint started as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh when Indira Gandhi appointed him to play both powerless and powerful — powerlessness to Indira, and powerfulness to act and implement according to the whims of Indira. Thus, Rao identified himself with the ambiguities of Ardhanareeshwara, the Androgynous. This dual role taught him and [me?] that success in life required one to play contradictory roles. This book copiously documents and adduces to P. V. Rao’s archives and secret letters. The author, Vinay Sitapati, spent much of his ink flowing in writing, as he should, how P. V. Rao rescued the economic insolvency with sama, dana, bheda, and danda — like a Chanakya, Machiavelli — in the face of a minority government thinner than his own hair –no national leader has achieved his scale of transformation worked under such constraints. Sitapati expounds on the three proximate causes that dwindled India’s dollar reserves: The Gulf War of 1990 that trebled the price of oil which India was buying; the withdrawal of 900 million dollars’ worth of deposits between April and June of 1991, by Indians abroad; and the reckless borrowing of reserves during Rajiv’s years. I grew wistful in learning how incestual looking India was by being economic protectionist; and a sense of melancholy enveloped me as India knocked the doors of IMF and other countries with a begging bowl only to be spurned. The author also delineates on the accusations Rao faced from within the party, accusations of conspiring to bribe MPs to vote in his favor, of forgery in St. Kitts case, of the fall of Babri Masjid. However, finally Rao was acquitted of all these accusations and emerged squeaky clean, but the disgrace in his death is something unforgettable and unforgivable! (The book may need proper editing, for there are lines that are haphazardly written …)
The earth may lose her fragrance, water its sweetness, the sun may lose his lustre, or the moon his enchanted coolness, but I, Satya, shall never forget the joy I savoured by reading this book. It is excruciating to write a review for a book that embodies the very life of mortal beings; and it is as much difficult to fill the mind with lessons from it; for every line, every page of the book is a lesson — a bane becomes a boon, a boon becomes a bane; it is a chalice of knowledge that may slop if dealt clumsily. All that is past when the sun sets on one day, who can call him back so you can live the same day; but it has been said that whatever has happened in Mahabharata may happen to us — so you can relive the life of the people ones walked this very earth — and what did not happen in Mahabharata will never happen to us. In other words, what is not in it, is nowhere. It has also been said that nothing exists that cannot be found within the pages of this awesome legend. Mahabharata, that happened circa 3000 BC, is an epic of 100,000 couplets which is seven times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. It seems that Ramesh Menon has borrowed the pen of Maharshi, the great poet, Vyasa for this modern rendering; for it is heavily ladened with poetic illustrations of heroic men and women, of some who are divine. It is ineffable to describe the book, and it is beyond the human tongue to couch it in earthly words. This book presents an account of the events up to the wedding of Abhimanyu in Upaplavya. I look forward to reading the vol.2 with as much joy I savoured in reading vol. 1.
This book reminds me of a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:
“Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure, knowing that thy living touch is upon all my limbs
I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from my thoughts, knowing that thou art that truth which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.
I shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart and keep my love in flower, knowing that thou hast thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.
And it shall be my endeavor to reveal these in my actions, knowing it is thy power gives me strength to act.”
I always take solace in listening to Sadguru and recourse to his teachings and experiences every now and then; having listened to Sadhguru, my life becomes extremely agitated whenever I see nonsense flushing around sharing the flawed philosophies and shibboleths. I go berserk sometimes at people, of course not on their face, when they try to play prima donna by switching their ratiocinative minds (and apply their absurd logic), because ipso facto, I know they are nonsense. In this very book, Sadhguru raconteurs how to go “out of mind”; how to cut through anything effortlessly like a knife and at the same time disidentify with everything, so we don’t carry a chip on the shoulder anymore (I used this idiom in the sense, no baggage of past is carried). Sadhguru imparts the wisdom (not sure if wisdom is transferable) that our mind need not be controlled; it needs to be liberated. Unfortunately, people with their ratiocinative minds think that it should be controlled, which is why I called these folks nonsense. Sadguru, in this book, says, moments of extreme logic are moments of suicide; if we think hundred percent logically about life, there is really no reason to live; but if you look at one beautiful moment of your life’s experience, suddenly everything is sparked up and you want to live; the logical aspect of life and the experiential dimension of life are diametrically opposite each other. Furthermore, Sadhguru presents a way to distance oneself from both mind and body. To know what it is better, read the book, meanwhile, I try this kriya in the hope that it works!
I have culled some aphorisms from the book:
1. Atheism (materialism) means treating the dead as if they were unborn. By accepting the sacred, you reinvent religion.
2. Most of what they call humility is successfully disguised arrogance.
3. To understand the liberating effect of asceticism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it.
4. Education (formal) makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.
5. Your reputation is harmed the most by what you say to defend it. (I’ve seen this happening).
6. If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated.
7. They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status — but rarely for your wisdom.
8. People reserve standard compliments for those who do not threaten their pride; the others they often praise by calling “arrogant”.
9. You want to avoid being disliked without being envied or admired.
10. They are born, then put in a box; they go home to live in a box; they study by ticking boxes; they go to what is called “work” in a box, where they sit in their cubicle box; they go to gym in a box to sit in a box; they talk about thinking “outside the box”; and when they die they are put in a box. All boxes, Euclidian, geometrically smooth boxes!
11. You don’t become completely free just by avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.
12. If you lie to me, keep lying; don’t hurt me by suddenly telling the truth.
13. Usually, what we call a “good listener” is someone with skillfully polished indifference.
14. You will get the most attention from those who hate you. No friend, no admirer, and no partner will flatter you with as much curiosity.
15. True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.
16. Half the people lie with their lips; the other half with their tears.
17. Someone who says “I am busy” is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.
18. You exist if and only if you are free to do things without a visible objective, with no justification, and above all, outside the dictatorship of someone else’s narrative. (I think I exist 😉 )
19. We call narcissistic those individuals who behave as if they were the central residents of the world; those who do exactly the same in a set of two we call lovers or, better, “blessed by love”.
20. Hatred is much harder to fake than love. You hear of fake love; never of fake hate.
21. The fool generalizes the particular; the nerd particularizes the general; some do both; the wise does neither.
22. Corollary to Moore’s Law: every ten years, collective wisdom degrades by half.
23. What made medicine fool people for so long was that its successes were prominently displayed and its mistakes (literally) buried. 😂
24. Medieval man was a cog in a wheel he did not understand; modern man is a cog in a complicated system he thinks he understands.
25. The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits.
26. Art is a one-sided conversation with the unobserved.
27. If you want to annoy a poet, explain his poetry.
28. We find it to be in extremely bad taste for individuals to boast of their accomplishments, but when countries do so we call it “national pride.”
29. Even the cheapest misers can be generous with advice.
30. You are only secure if you can lose your fortune without the additional worse insult of having to become humble.
31. Pure generosity is when you help the ingrate. Every other form is self-serving.
32. Someone from your social class who becomes poor affects you more than thousands of starving ones outside of it.
33. They agree that chess training only improves chess skills but disagree that classroom training (almost) only improves classroom skills.
34. It takes extraordinary wisdom and self-control to accept that many things have a logic we do not understand that is smarter than our own.
35. A mathematician starts with a problem and creates a solution; a consultant starts by offering a “solution” and creates a problem.
36. When expressing “good luck” to a peer, the weak wishes the opposite; the strong is mildly indifferent; but only the magnificent means it!
When sleazy, sordid, rapacious, (literally any pejorative adjective will fit) politicians and bureaucrats who had taken the oath of upholding and protecting the interests of the nation and its treasury, rang the death knell for the country’s exchequer, Vinod Rai emerged as a messiah and crossed swords with these snollygosters just before the nation succumbs. Vinod Rai, during his stint as CAG, reconnoitered all the government’s receipts and expenditures and has taken certain decisions which put him in a bad taste with the govt. officials. As custodian of the public purse, Vinod Rai played the role of a vanguard in reporting on financial regularities, irrespective of the government in power. In this book, Vinod Rai presents a clinical, objective and incisive analysis of the corruption that raised a great furor among the people of India; some of these exposés are: 2G license allocation, where the spectrum, which is a finite national resource, had been gifted to private companies at a throwaway price; commonwealth games, which is tantamount to conducting a Punjabi wedding; coal block allocation, where again India’s corrupt elites alloted coal blocks to private companies dispensing with screening committee method, which caused a huge fiscal loss to the national exchequer; and procurement of Boeing flights and ill-formed aviation policies that led the exchequer continue to bleed! Vinod Rai, trenchantly writes that “we have become a nation content with accepting a leader foisted upon us not because of his proven leadership qualities or dynamism, but by virtue of his loyalty to an organization or its high command. We are a nation that has come to accept its topmost civil servant not because of his ability to motivate, innovate […] but by virtue of his seniority, and the number of years he has served the establishment. […] We are a nation that has forgotten the skill of winning gold medals in international events because we do not choose a team of the finest calibre, but would rather have one affiliated with the nation’s power corridors.” Vinod further adds, Indian democracy is in the throes of transformation and there is only one constant that will define and determine success: the pursuit of excellence — we cannot afford to limit ourselves to anything less than the best. We need to move from the most regrettable aspects of our psyche jugaad [I personally hate this word] to high value and high impact innovation; finally, we have to get over the accusations of nepotism and cronyism that seem to have crept into our psyche!
Not every so often a coup de foudre fulminate, a paroxysm of emotions exudes — but reading this book gave me a frisson of excitement, it served as a catharsis. This is my third book to read by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the more I read the more I get a sense that is it a serendipity or am I preordained to know this guy, for he (or I) share exactly the same view I (or he) hold(s) of the society, of the pseudo-scientists, of the pseudo-intellectuals who think they know-it-all! Gates of my heart flung open as I read this book fooled by randomness. Have you ever ambled around bookstores and picked up a biography of a successful man/woman and leafed through a few pages? Without any modicum of astonishment, you will see them presenting their specific explanation on how they made it big in life by attributing a huge share of success to hard work, perseverance and to some other, generally very precise, reason; and undermining and allowing a disproportionate share of luck to their success. The premise of this book is how people are very often fooled by randomness. Taleb portentously writes that much of what rational thinking seems to do is rationalize one’s actions by fitting some logic to them. This book has borne me out for holding similar views after all humans are not rational beings and rationality is not defined by explicit verbalistic explanatory factors; it is what aids survival and what avoids ruin. This book is reminiscent of Einstein’s remark: common sense is nothing but a collection of misconceptions acquired by age eighteen! A wonderful and delightful book I read in recent times. Am I right in saying that the author and I share similar ideas, or is it just that Taleb has transmogrified me by exploiting my emotions, for I am emotionally vulnerable and I am incapable of taming my emotions like any other non-psychopath?
Adam Kay was visiting Southampton for his show which I planned to attend but could not as the tickets were sold out — I am someone who does things on-the-fly, or at the brink of the moment. Maybe because I have read a little over a half-a-dozen anecdotal books that riveting and hair-raising, written by seasoned doctors and surgeons, I was not keen on picking this book up as I am sure this book would not be a serious read. However after skimming through the rave reviews of the book — I usually don’t read a book based on reviews—-I leafed through few pages of the book which gave me the impression that it is going to be a funny, excoriatingly revealing, beautiful book. As I finished reading this book I can say it didn’t disappoint me, and on the contrary, it is decidedly an unputdownable book. Although Adam Kay regales the reader with his repartee and scalpel-sharp wit, his poignant final act brought me to tears. This book weaves in and out of his patients’ lives’ in the sharpest gallows humour as well as experiences of doctors providing some insight on an individual level into what the job really entails!
There is nothing lovelier on this planet than a flower, no more essential than a plant. Before I say anything about this book let me remark that this book ‘the secret life of plants’ comes as a bafflement and sounds asinine to many who are trapped in the valley of materialistic concepts, refusing to believe there is anything other than the physical-material world of our five senses and to who give credence to the dusty mouthings of academicians. This book shore up the argument that plants are living, breathing, communicating creatures, endowed with personality and the attributes of a soul, with a plethora of experiments carried out by assorted botanists, scientists and researchers. The ‘secret’ life of plants spill the beans, not in indiscretion but with discreet, that plants possess within itself the capacity to take on manifold forms, and which at a particular time takes that form which is best suited to the conditions of the external environing world; and that plants if not complicated as animals, has a nervous system. Venturing into writing this book, I must say, is likened to opening a Pandora’s box which the author aims to close it with another book ‘the cosmic life of plants’. This book bears out human thinking, human passion, human anger, human kindliness and affection, all have far-reaching effects on the world of plants, that they are most susceptible to human thoughts and emotions, which affect their energy. The author also expatiates on the abusive use of chemical fertilizers, which when applied to plants results in dulling of their vibrations which in turn affects the human vibrations. This books also delves on dowsing, soil, chemicals, pesticides and other smorgasbord of things.
Criticism which transgresses the limit of fairness must inevitably hinder the progress of knowledge — Jagadish Chandra Bose.
I first read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book black swan, the scales fell off from my eyes (at the time of writing this review, I have dry eyes) while providing me a clear vision of the narrow-sightedness of the so-called educated philistines and world per se — where people consider absence of evidence as the evidence of absence. This book, skin in the game, is predicated on Nassism’s earlier work on black swan, antifragile, fooled by randomness. The author profusely and vociferously talks on various subjects including how minorities, not majorities, run the world; ethical rules; social justice; and finally my personal favourite which I couldn’t agree more –how the intellectual yet idiot who cannot find coconut on coconut island, tell rest of us (well not to me, I don’t really care them) what to do, what to eat, how to think, how to speak… To my mind, Nassim is a, proverbial skewer of the societies’ long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility!
Halfway through the book out of the blue, a question crossed my mind –why am I reading this book? My inner voice said that it is simply because you are smitten by this Oxbridge educated, sangfroid, cultivated, anglophile who speaks and writes with Cambridge English, who has sartorial elegance in his interviews — Karan Thapar. A frisson of excitement enveloped me as I read through Karan’s anecdotal experiences in interviewing the famous. Reading this book, it appeared to me prima facie that Karan has friends in high places and seems to be hobnobbing with them. However, the scales began to fall my eyes as I read his interviews with his dearest friend Benazir Bhutto; Lal Krishna Advani; Barack Obama, who disillusioned Karan for asking questions in advance to the interview; Amal Clooney, who ironically contradicts the freedom of speech she espouses; General Parvez Musharraf; Kapil Dev; Jeremy Thorepe; and Narendra Modi — in these and other interviews, to my surprise and also to my delight, Karan puts journalistic principle ahead of a trust and friendship. Although Karan sounded hard as nails, in my opinion, I behold him as an epitome of journalism (at least in the Indian context) who is principled and hard-bent on getting what he wanted from the interviewee. One thing that gobsmacked and at the same time amused me is Karan exploiting the folly of interviewers by fobbing off the question list when asked for it in advance. This collection of chronicles of his interviews has put me on a tenterhook and is decidedly a page-turner.
As long as Lions do not have story-tellers, the history of the hunt always glorifies the hunter. This adage is very much germane to India and its history, for it lacks historians of Indian origin in the pre-Nehru era, and much of India’s history is written by the foreigners, who visited India, with contempt and jaundiced opinions. The account of Indian history by outsiders is inveighed against Indians by marginalizing, and quoting as parochial in thought and incestually looking country. Unfortunately, this behavior is also observed in today’s Indians who talk glibly of modernism and modern spirit and the essence of Western culture and are at the same time ignorant of their own culture. Today most Indians take the external forms and outer trapping of the West, and imagine that they are in the vanguard of an advancing civilization. Naive and shallow and yet full of their conceits, they live an artificial life which has no living contact with the culture of the East or of the West.
To my delight, here comes the man garbed in Sherwani, Cambridge-educated, who is very much misunderstood by the so-called pseudo-elites and pseudo-intellectuals of India today, who reduced this man to a mere political party — Jawaharlal Nehru. Written over five months while in prison, Discovery of India, to my mind, is a living history of India. Although the book seems disjointed, jumbled and lacks unity, the richness of Indian history and its civilization forms the sinews of the book that bind it together. Nehru’s discovery of India spans from the Indus Valley Civilization-to-Muslim Invasions-to-British Empire in India. It is a manifestation of Nehru’s quest for India’s past. Much of ink flowed from Nehru’s pen analyzing texts like the Vedas and the Arthashastra, and personalities like the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi.
Nehru writes at length covering the iniquities, rapacities, draconian laws and conditions of British rule in India, especially the way it made India static, dormant, and imprisoned the minds of the people of India interspersed with differences between Orient and the Occident cultures. In this book, Nehru evokes Rabindranath Tagore’s thoughts and musing, which din in my ear as I read the book and also I write this review. My heart bled as I read these lines
‘ The demon of barbarity has given up all pretense and has emerged with unconcealed fangs ready to tear up humanity in an orgy of devastation. From one end of the world to the other, the poisonous fumes of hatred darken the atmosphere. The spirit of violence which perhaps lay dormant in the psychology of the West has at last roused itself and desecrated the spirit of man.
The wheels of fate will some day compel the English to give up their Indian empire. But what kind of India will they leave behind, what stark misery? When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filthy they will leave behind. As I look round I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility!
By unrighteousness man proposers, gain what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.
This book is a must read for those virgin minds unassaulted by the thoughts of what India was in the past!
Tagore writes –“To know and understand India one has to travel far in time and space, to forget for a while her present condition with all its misery and narrowness and horror, and to have glimpses of what she was and what she did. To know my country, one has to travel to that age, when she realized her soul and thus transcended her physical boundaries, when she revealed her being in a radiant magnanimity which illumined the eastern horizon, making her recognized as their own by those in alien shores who were awakened into a surprise of life; and not now when she has withdrawn herself into a narrow barrier of obscurity, into a miserly pride of exclusiveness, into a poverty of mind that dumbly revolves around itself in an unmeaning repetition of a past that has lost its light and has no message for the pilgrims of the future.”
If a city’s raison d’etre is to make life better — Hyderabad is one of its kind. Hyderabad sits nestled amongst one of the oldest rock systems of the world. Hyderabad is the daughter of Golconda Fort which was built during Kakatiya rule — after the fall of the Kakatiya dynasty and a series of events Golconda Fort fell into the hands of Persians — Qutb Shahi dynasty. When Golconda Fort became congested with people teeming and hygiene could not be maintained, Quli passed a decree ordering the establishment of a new city which should be a replica of heaven on earth and unequalled in the world. Then, on an auspicious day when the moon was in the constellation of Leo and Jupiter was in its own mansion, a city is born — Hyderabad. Since then Hyderabad has attracted people from all over the world for a variety of reasons. It climate, its cosmopolitanism, its growth —Hyderabad a biography is living relic of the city, starting with the period prior to the city’s birth in 1591, the book presents an unbroken and colourful chronicle of Hyderabad, one of contemporary India’s most important cities. Charting the city’s fascinating march from Bhagnagar to Hyderabad to Cyberabad, this story is replete with diverse engaging, eccentric and often daring characters, some of whose lives are stranger than fiction!
The book “The Sun Does Shine” is a scathing indictment of the death penalty that should give all of us good cause to fight for its abolition. We all have a family, a story, a series of choices and events that have led to a life spent in a cage — what would you do if you ever have wrongfully convicted for a crime you didn’t do? What would you do if you passed a polygraph test, but no one believed you? What would you do if you didn’t have enough money to pay for a good lawyer. This book is a memoir of a person named Anthony Ray Hinton who happened to experience all the foregoing questions and spent three decades on death row. The Sun Does Shine is both exasperating and inspiring. Exasperating because it exposes a broken criminal justice system marred by racial disparities, malicious intent, and often outright incompetence – of defence attorney, of judges, of so-called “experts”. This book presents in Hinton’s words how to find ways to recover after bad things happen, and how to make every ending be a happy ending.
This is a book rooted in facts and realities, not in predetermined posturing and sermonizing. This is a book that looks at benefits of meat eating as well as at the failures and drawbacks. The author doesn’t advocate any particular practice or point of view but merely presents the best evidence to its logical conclusions. To my mind, this book is haphazardly written and has soporific effect as I painstakingly tried to leaf through the pages of the book. Much of the book is crammed with numbers, rates, and comparison. However, it seems that the author has done hours and hours of stern research on the consumption of meat, and its ramifications, while he criticises the extant conclusion drawn in the literature and philosophical debates on meat-eating!
‘It’s in our DNA’, we say, as we grapple with our humanity and our idiosyncrasies, but really we know that our own DNA offers little instruction for our daily lives. That other 90 per cent, though — those other 100 trillion cells, and our other 4.4 million genes -they are us too. In this book, Alanna Collen, belabour eloquently on 21st-century illnesses that have brought fresh challenges for patients living into old age, where our immune systems instead of taking a holiday are more active than ever. Furthermore, Alanna trenchantly debunks with spellbinding revelations on how simply having a diversified community of microbes living in our gut can make the difference between being healthy and having a condition that carries an 80 per cent chance of death from twenty-first-century illness — be it autism, or irritable bowel syndrome, or obesity, or even more so — the emperor of all maladies, Cancer. She also presents the schism between the antibiotics that are life-saving when consumed and the antibiotics that are insidiously life-threating by decimating the microbiome. Finally, Alana advocates in this riveting book that despite being omnivores — eating plant foods that encourage a beneficial microbial balance will provide the basis for good health; and also that one must make a conscious choice about the use of antibiotics!
This book presents our modest and humble understanding of cancer — the scrappy, fecund, invasive, adaptable twin to our own scrappy, fecund, invasive, adaptable cells and genes that is impossible to disconnect from our bodies. Siddharth Mukherjee expended much of his ink dissecting and analyzing the emperor of all maladies, cancer, through poignant, ghoulish, morbid stories of people who destined to be pillaged and plundered by the emperor — cancer. I have bitten more than I can chew by picking this book up without realizing that it is heavily ladened with too many details to assimilate. In contrast to other biographies, this book doesn’t confront the death of the subject. Furthermore, the author harrowingly writes that it is unlikely that we will soon see a magic bullet for the treatment of cancer, but it is just as unlikely that there will be a magic bullet that will knock out the full spectrum of cancer. Finally, death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not — represents a far more reasonable goal to define success in the War on Cancer!
Whenever and wherever I mention that I live in Hyderabad, I am subjected to a pyroclastic flow of Hyderabad’s glorious past gushing out with a sense of pride — my tone shrieks with exclamation marks when I have to say Hyderabad!! Hyderabad founded by Quli Qutb Shah with a city plan ready in 1591, incorporating many of the features of the mythical Islamic heaven, now abounds in recurrent images, phrases — and stories that are less myth more truth, than most. There is something drone-like about the cliches; the state long presided over by the world’s richest man, home to the Salar Jung Museum, the Charminar, the Golconda diamonds, and the most likely to the Kohinoor, the Orloff, the Jacob, the Hope, the Great Mughal, the Darya-i-Noor. Hyderabad is a distinct Deccani culture, the product of a very particular mixture of peoples and influences. It was based on religious tolerance, courtesy, hospitality, love of arts and a first-rate civil service which made no distinction between creeds or caste or class. Religious tolerance —that rare value of accepting different cultures readily — has been an integral part of the culture of the Deccan for good reason. This hair-raising book, the untold Charminar’, Syeda Iman is a gleaning of many who touched the city and were moved; who know and will tell; who relish and wish to share that relish. Finally, although the Hyderabad that I reckon — the city of pearls, the city of lakes, the city of gardens has died, Hyderabad lives on!!
In a culture that often favors the visual over the acoustic, and where ‘seeing is believing’, neuroplasticity that has been dismissed by neurosurgeons, as the author writes, emerged as a panacea for most of the diseases, such as Autism, Parkinson’ disease, Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, Paralysis, etc. In this book, the author illustrates brain as plastic that changes as it works with poignant crestfallen stories of patients with disordered neurons in their cranium. Neuroplasticity, as the author writes, is predicated on the utilization of energy — including light, sound, vibration, electricity, and motion. In contrast to the conventional practices, where people are subjected to constant discomfort, invasions of body and brushes with death, neuroplasticity provides natural, noninvasive avenues into the brain that pass through our senses and our bodies to awaken the brain’s own healing capacities. I was completely wallowed reading this book. Learned many new things about the brain, especially to learn that brain is malleable; and why running is the best medicine for brain’s healing!
Leonardo Da Vinci — the archetype of the Renaissance man, an inspiration to all who believe that the infinite works of nature are woven together in a unity filled with marvelous patterns — in this book, although Walter Isaacson has copiously documented all trivial details about the Leonardo, the painter, he barely touches on Leonardo Da Vinci, the architect, the mathematician, the engineer, and so forth. To my mind, this book is sort of panegyric by Walter Isaacson to Leonardo the painter. It, however, presents how Leonardo sought knowledge; he sought knowledge for its own sake — not all knowledge needs to be useful, sometimes it should be pursued for pure pleasure, writes Leonardo! This book, I’d not say riveting or a rewarding read, but it is indeed a good reference for fledgling artists!
This book offers a smorgasbord of knowledge from the subjects on psychoanalysis, on the art of existentialism and surrealism, on human’s avarice and altruism, and on to have or to be. When our education generally tries to train people to have knowledge as a “possession (to have)” — making us fatuous, deflated, defeated and unfinished man, this book profusely talks about the potentialities of human nature in the “being (to be)” mode of existence. Fromm notes that the having mode of life, i.e., possession of things — dismembers our life and lobotomizes our self — leaving us void. He further adds that “it is only when we have given up the crutch of property, we begin to use our own proper forces and walk by ourselves. What holds us back is the illusion that we couldn’t walk by ourselves, that we would collapse if we were not supported by things we have. We’re like a child who is afraid that it will never be able to walk, after it has fallen the first time”. This book presents some nice insights, however, insights separated from practice remains ineffective!
Books I read in 2017!
We live orphaned on a tiny rock in the immense vastness of space, with no hint of even the simplest form of life anywhere around us for billions upon billions of miles, alone beyond all imagining — such is the life of Chris Knight who ensconced in woods for more than two decades. This book chronicles the life of Chris Knight, a questionable hermit, who wanted to transcend the vapidity of life, who is worried about having an identity applied by someone else, who thinks of himself as a Nietzschean Übermensch. Since there is a sliver line between the solitude by chance or by choice, it is unclear to me, if Knight suffered from Schizoid, however, learning about solitude and silence from this book is truly enlightening. This book offered me a new meaning to Silence — it provides a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.
To borrow from philosophy of Tao Te Ching — it is only through retreat rather than pursuit, through inaction rather than action, that we acquire wisdom. Those with less become content, and those with more become confused.
The gates of my heart were flung open, and joy flew far above everything while Sadhguru, in his raconteur tone, demystifies the spiritual traditions of the yogic sciences in this captivating book. Sadhguru while retelling the source of yoga, segues between legend and history. In the yogic traditions, Sadhguru writes, Shiva can be alluded to either of two possibilities, Shi-va, that which is not and Shiva, Adigyogi, the progenitor of Yoga. In this book, Sadhguru presents a vivid understanding of yoga, the spiritual journey, a journey towards clarity, but never towards certainty. Sadhguru writes “When you draw conclusions about beginnings and endings, you are a believer. When you accept that you really do not know anything, you become a seeker. To be enlightened is not a condition of certainty. It is to move from limited knowing to boundless unknowing, from gravitas to grace”. A rewarding and beautiful book!
When you accept that you really do not know anything, you become a seeker. To be enlightened is not a condition of certainty. It is to move from limited knowing to boundless unknowing, from gravitas to grace. To know the life in its entirety, one has to become one with it — not cerebrally, but experientially. Through only knowing, not knowledge. Knowledge is intellectual accumulation; it is information gathered and processed in bits and pieces. Knowing, on the other hand, is neither intellectual nor accumulative. Being that which is not is the most auspicious thing, this is because you can find fault ‘that which is ‘. You can like it or dislike it; you can agree with it or disagree with it; but ‘that which is not’ is perfect. ‘That which is not’ is the most auspicious, because nobody can find fault with it.
Humanity’s understanding of the physical world is filled with a glut of chasms, grand canyons and huge yawning voids, which has had convulsed physicists. This book armed with infographics and cartoons presents a lucid explanation of science to the laity, who is inquisitive to do some mind-bending to understand the bizarre universe that besieges him/her. The duo authors although make an attempt in this book to make sense of the universe that ladened with the weird things which actually don’t make sense, the narrative of the book turned to be more prosaic and repetitive. I think I can say it is written with a bit of cavalier attitude in the last few chapters. However, this book provides a light-hearted understanding of the ununderstandable universe. The take away from the book is — today’s philosophical questions are tomorrow’s precise scientific experiments!
Until I have read this book I didn’t know that Arundhati Roy is a deadly butcher, like a seasoned assassin. She chooses her target carefully. Equips herself with unfailing arms and ammunition by hours and hours of stern research. And then she strikes. Relentlessly. Mercilessly. She strikes to kill. Kill the target in the eyes of the reader. The targets in this book are — the western hypocrisy, whose histories are spongy with the blood of others; cynical enterprise where a preponderance of people displaced by big dams at the altar of national progress; the unconscionable attack of America against the people it doesn’t know (Afghanistan); and the democracy in the Indian context, where not just one million soldiers on the border who are living on hair-trigger alert — it’s all us. A provocative book that sent chills up my spine! (The description of the author is inspired by an anonymous reviewer on GoodReads).
In this book, Rahula ostensibly attempts to expound the teachings of Buddha from the extant Pali texts of Tipitaka. Although I do not make bones about any of the teachings presented in this book, I take these precepts advocated in this book with a truckload of salt as I am unsure of what Buddha himself actually taught, and there is a room for my skepticism toward Rahula’s interpretation of Buddha teachings. Also, I feel that Rahula has crossed the Rubicon when he periodically proclaims the only Buddhism is the apostle of absolute truth. So, in my naivety, the only way to understand Buddha’s modus-vivendi or Hindu system is to seek and experience it and not by the commentaries.
In this treatise, Dava Sobel eloquently writes how discovering the longitude became a synonym for attempting the impossible when the so-called solutions to the longitude problem had been a dime a dozen even before they went into effect. This book is memoir of John Harrison, a village carpenter, who having (unheard/heard?) of the half-baked bids to find longitude in the sound of cannon blasts, in compass needles heated by fire, in the moon’s motion, in the sun’s elevation, and so forth — conceived a contraption, ‘the timekeeper H-1’ which keep its equanimity throughout the voyage withstanding the vicissitudes of climates. Leafing through Harrison’s life, who wrested the world’s whereabouts from the starts, and locked the secret in a pocket watch is truly inspiring and rewarding!
Never before has a generation of people known the comforts and convenience we have today. And yet, a vast number of people live in states of constant anxiety and depression — many are suffering the consequences of their success and of their freedom. To understand life in its entirety, Sadhguru solemnly writes, one has to transcend the intellect, the discriminatory and logical dimension of the mental framework. While taking a jibe at the people who conjure an image of Yoga as bone-bending, muscle knotting, and teeth-gnashing contortionism, Sadhguru advocates Yoga, the science of being in perfect alignment, in absolute harmony, in complete sync with existence, in this riveting book Inner Engineering. This book is indeed a joy, which is a rare visitor in most people’s lives. There is a way out to joy. And the way out is in.
This book, although well articulated, reading and engrossing the ideas presented in this book, to my mind, would be like committing psychological hara-kiri. It was a great disillusionment to read this book as the author’s philosophy lacks universal appeal and vacuously written. There are several instances in the book where I can’t agree with the author and the book itself is sloppy. Furthermore, the author presumes to take down on the what he calls conventional wisdom, while the book itself stands on clichés.
If caste is primarily the breath of Hindus, Ambedhkar woefully writes, Hindus have fouled the air all over, and everybody is infected — Sikh, Muslim, and Christian. In annihilation of caste, Ambedhkar enunciates why caste exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change. Ambedkar says “What is the use of fundamental rights to the Blacks in America, to the Jews in Germany and to the Untouchables in India? A sense of abomination and astonishment crept into my veins, when Ambedkar’s most formidable adversary, the most famous Indian in the world, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, disagreed and believed that caste represented the genius of Indian society. To my mind Ambedkar’s thesis on the annihilation of caste manifest flaws, when he denounces Hinduism by invoking Vedas, Smritis, and other texts. In my naivety, Hinduism is not a religion and never ever has it been a proponent of Casteism. The best interpreters of the texts are not learned men surely. Learning there must be. But religion does not live by it. It lives in the experience of its saints and seers, in their lives and sayings. When all the most learned commentators of the scriptures are utterly forgotten, the accumulated experience of the sages and saints will abide and be an inspiration for ages to come.
I shall never forget the astonishment with which I read this book. I was chagrined to discover when the author expatiated on how we think with arrant inanity most of the time. The author writes with a rapier wit on thinking, fast and slow, where he provides suggestive evidence of theory-induced blindness. Although I do not assent with the author in few places where I think the author made sweeping conclusions, he vehemently writes how the emotional tail wags the rational dog. This book is indeed thought-provoking and intriguing! This book is also enlivened with some interesting quotes:
Beyond the satiation level of income, you can buy more pleasurable experiences, but you will lose some of your ability to enjoy the less expensive…
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.
Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of a disadvantaged white guy who hails from both Appalachian Ohio and Kentucky. Hillbilly Elegy presents a back-of-the-envelope of the dreadful poverty that besieges the Middletown, Ohio. J. D. Vance delves into his personal details delineating how he moved up from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder despite his troubled upbringing that haunts him. Though the author expounds on destitue that surrounds them, there are no big cliffhangers type mystery propelling this story. It is a story of a hillbilly who survives the chaotic, mostly fatherless childhood with an unhinged mother and gets an admit at Yale law school.
Robert Greene expended much of his ink dissecting and analyzing the lives of assorted luminaries in diversified fields, such as Darwin, Einstein, B. Franklin, Paul Graham, etc. The author clinically writes about the ways to rise to the level of Mastery through the exegesis of people with preeminence. Robert emphatically writes about discovering one’s life task, the inner force that seeks to guide us; with a plethora of examples, the author corroborates his rubric presented in the book, explaining the edifices life has to offer to us. One of the many facets of the book discusses navigating through people’s mind, manipulating people and strategies for acquiring social intelligence. It’s a riveting book with an eclectic collection of biographies!
Shashi Tharoor unduly writes about India in this engrossing book ‘India – From Midnight to Mmillennium and Beyond’. India is singular, but exists as plural with caste, creed, colour, cuisine, custom’. India can be couched only in terms of pluralism. Tharoor trenchantly writes about India after 50 years of Independence punctuated with his anecdotal experiences during his adolescence. In his book, Tharoor decries Mrs. Gandhi hegemonic reign during the emergency in 1975/77 while bemoaning over the venality, bigotry, dishonesty, incompetence, and just plain criminality India has had beset with. Although the book was written 15 years ago, it reverberates with the current Indian affairs as I read it in 2017. As I wallowed reading the book I found some parts of it bit too repetitive.
When the man is left dangling near the end of the branches at the top of the tree and mostly just refining past inventions, Elon Musk emerged as a visionary and is a bit different from the run-of-the-mill entrepreneurs in silicon valley. Elon garnered attention and of course earned notoriety for making weird pronouncements vis-à-vis SpaceX, Tesla, Hyperloop and for his whimsical plans while silicon valley is ladened with a plethora of ho-hum companies. Elon’s biography is truly inspiring and gripping account as Tesla and SpaceX bordered on bankruptcy for much of its existence and been one major technical gaffe from obsolescence at all times. In my naivety, Elon falls into the spectrum of his peers Bill Gates and Steve Jobs!
After having chewed over the views proffered by Husain Haqqani on the relationship between India and Pakistan, I believe that the reasons for hostility between the two states are multipronged – and resolution of the so-called Kashmir conflict alone wouldn’t subside the tensions b/w the two nuclear-armed states, terrorism, for example. Husain writes that the Pakistan fears that India would undermine, disapprove and ridicule the ‘two-nation theory’; weaken Pakistan to an extent that it ceases to pose any threat to Indian hegemonic designs. Further, her desire to seek parity with India only complicates the issue. India and Pakistan may have centuries of shared history but the contending nationalism, passionately taught in schools and also cultivated through jihadism and Hindutva extremism for seven decades, have eroded the commonalities b/w the two people!
This book debunks the myth many of us harbor in our psyche – that innate talent is something imperative to reach the top rungs of performance/excellence ladder. Geoff Colvin, in this captivating book ‘ Talent is Overrated…’ advocates that the deliberate practice is the way to achieve the desired efficacy of any profession. It is with only conscientiously designed practice and continuous feedback one reaches the level of pre-eminence. The belief that the performance is forever limited by lack of specific innate gift is a travesty, however, one caveat that deliberate practice carries is that it is very demanding, taxing and could be affected by milieu. Above all – the great performance is not reserved for a preordained few; it is available to me, to you and to everyone!
Who moved my cheese by Spencer Johnson, is an excellent metaphor for people who fear to change. Spencer narrates this allegory through four characters who live in a maze that is a labyrinth of chambers and corridors and look for cheese to nourish and make them happy. This book reveals a profound truth about change and anchors some wonderful truisms: noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come; if you do not change you can become extinct; the biggest inhibitor to change lies within yourself, and that nothing gets better until you change. A short and an amusing book!
Shivshankar Menon recounts his experiences and the choices made during his stint as an Indian diplomat, a National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary, in this book “Choices: inside the making of Indian Foreign Policy”. Menon attempted to describe the reasons and considerations that weighed in the choices that were made in government, on behalf of India, such as the border peace and tranquility agreement with China, Indo-US nuclear deal, the decision not to retaliate militarily against Pakistan for 26/11 Mumbai attacks. This book leaves the readers with some sense of the complexity and joys of foreign policy decision making, of the balancing of interests that it requires, and of minimizing harm and maximizing gain, in situations where not all considerations are entirely synchronized. One takeaway from this book is that ‘diplomats do not combine means with a view to ends, like engineers; they take risks, like gamblers.”
Only yesterday mankind lived in fear of scourges of smallpox, cholera, and plague that once swept nations before them. Today we are concerned with a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment – a hazard we ourselves have introduced into our world as our modern way of life has evolved. Written in 1962, by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring as I read it after almost six decades of its arrival is bit anachronistic, but nonetheless, the concerns raised in the book are extremely relevant even today. Silent Spring introduces the reader to a myriad of pesticides and insecticides, such as DDT, eldrin, dieldrin, parathion, malathion, etc, which not only turn against insects but also against human. This book is ladened heavily with the nomenclature of flora and fauna which I am not aware of, and hence, it was a bit tough read.
When breath becomes air is the memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was stricken with lung cancer. Paul, as he writes in his book, devoted much of his time before cancer purchased his life in reconnoitering reams of philosophy and literary work to understand the meaning of life; and studied neuroscience, which he believed would lead to an epiphany in the crucible of rooms flooded with patients. However, to my mind, this is a book with hardly any substance; in my opinion, it stands banal and too cliched!
The author, Yuval Noah Harari, fervently writes in the captivating book Sapiens: History of Humankind, how the mental and social skills help humans striding up to the top rung of the sociopolitical and economy ladder. Yuval Noah expended much of ink in writing about the figments of imagination humans conceive and transform them into cruel — and very cruel social structures. Further, he poignantly writes how Sapiens have evolved with rapacity and wiped out millions of animals in the annals of the planet. With the advent of the cognitive revolution, Sapiens acquired the technology, the organization skills and it also served as a cornerstone for Yuval, who is presumably a Sapien, to write this excellent book!
As someone who has devoted three decades of his life to multilateral cooperation at the United Nations, Shashi Tharoor, undeniably an aficionado of global governance and foreign diplomacy. Shahi in his riveting book ‘Pax Indica’, trenchantly notes the forces that thwart India from becoming a major power at the global table. He peevishly writes about the impediments that India bedevils from its neighbors, which nurture and provide succor in their soil; the claims of its frontiers from the overweening China, which is one of the incipient major powers in the 21st century; and the policies with the USA which most of them are desultorily formulated. He eloquently adds, how India has transmuted from the stereotype west has from as land of snake-charmers and begging bowls — poverty marginally leavened by exotica to a land of engineers and scientists who are now seen as a synonym with mathematics and science and IT. Further, he adds how India can rise as a soft power by promoting its creed, culture, customs, cuisine, Bollywood, etc! Tharoor, proffered in this book, that reform at United Nations is salient for the well-being of the world!
The post-colonial India, which weaned on multilateral lenders has transformed itself to where no power on earth can presume to dictate to India on any international issue in this 21st century!
Books I have read in 2016!
The major portion of this book chronicles the lives of some of the luminaries in Mathematics. The author and mathematician, Ian Stewart in the book ‘why beauty is truth’, made an attempt to present the ideas of symmetry and how it has sprung up from group theory invented by Galois, however, the book stands prosaic and lackluster. I was of the opinion that this book lays some interesting insights into group theory liaison with symmetry. To my dismay, this book focussed mainly on the mathematical pedigree and lacks beauty!
The speech turned into a book, Shashi Tharoor in ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India’, makes a bold attempt to strike back at the British colonialism in India. While this book aroused intense emotions as I read this book, when I am myself an expatriate in England, Tharoor has done a great deal of effort in his analysis of the iniquitous of the imperialism and the rapaciousness of the Briton’s forebears. This book lays bare the colonialism as a tale of slavery, plunder, corruption, land-grabbing, famines, exploitation, indentured labour, impoverishment, massacres, genocide and forced resettlement!
Om Swami presents a holistic understanding of health. In the book, the wellness sense, he brings the wisdom from the disciplines of Ayurveda, yoga and tantra, which insists that we are an integral part of nature, to the fore. He explains how living in harmony with nature brings changes in our very own nature. He also succinctly writes about the correlation and interdependence between one’s mental and physical states; how one’s state of mind affects one’s physical health and vice versa!
Atul Gawande, a prolific writer of medical science posit his views on the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Gawande, who himself is a neurosurgeon, describes in this book, being mortal, the modern experience of mortality -about what it’s like to be creatures who age and die. He also presents a light-hearted overview of the finitude of medical sciences. A terrific book, with jaw-dropping stories of his patients.
This is a complete different book than I assumed it to be. Becker in this book on the denial of death advises to practice dying. He further adds that cultivating awareness of our death leads to disillusionments, loss of character armor and conscious choice to abide in the face of terror. However I don’t completely agree with the points he has broached in the book. I am not very surprised when the author shames us with the knowledge how easily we will shed blood to purchase the assurance of our own righteousness!
Sadhguru, an uneducated Guru, Jaggi Vasudev, in the book mystic’s musings unfolds the truth; the truth which I believe it is, after brooding over it for some time. Jaggi in his discussions with his disciples jokes through some hair-raising revelations about life, and existence. His musings shock, provoke, amuse, intrigue and entertain! reading this is an ineffable joy! – one of the best books on spirituality I’ve read!
The molecules constituting the book had managed to get the molecules in my head to get the molecules in my hands to get the molecules in the book, ‘I am a strange loop by Douglas Hofstadter’. This reading consumed a good amount of time to get the gist of the self-reference, the ‘I’-ness discussed in the book. Half of the book discusses the Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which posits the limitations of the Principia Mathematica, and self-referential loops. In the other half of the book, author argues that there is no such thing as “I”; and the concept of ‘I’ is a myth! It’s just an hallucination hallucinated by hallucination. And he further adds that, a man can inhabit multiple brains in their careenium/skulls. A very profound and different book to what I have read so far!
This guy, Peter Thiel, believes in monopoly for a company or a start-up to be successful. Maybe he is right or maybe not; however, to support his ideas/opinions, the author, Mr. Peter, illustrates few examples, which in my opinion are imbecile. Perhaps, the author must ask right questions for himself. A painful read….!
The modern world has given us stupendous know-how, yet avoidable failures continue to plague us everywhere. Atul Gawande, a general and endocrine surgeon, in this riveting book explains how checklists have made possible some of the most difficult feats, from building skyscrapers of mind-boggling sophistication to flying planes. Man is fallible, but maybe men/checklists are less so.
An excellent book with amazing illustrations. Sadhana, the realization of life, by Rabindranath Tagore – presents ideas that are very deep and thought-provoking. It’s very hard for me to describe Sadhana. I found an ineffable joy reading this book. But one idea that is prevalent in the books I have recently read is that, the most important lesson that man can learn from his life is not that there is pain in this world, but that it depends upon him to turn it into good account, that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy! Life leads us instinctively to take a wider view. It gives us an ideal of perfection which ever carries us beyond our present limitations. Finally, the man who loses all pleasure in accepting pain sinks down and down to the lowest depth of penury and degradation!
I shall never forget the astonishment with which I have read this nice memoir of Hardy’s (A Mathematician)’s Apology. Hardy, who found his genuine passion for mathematics from Jordan’s famous ‘Cours d’analyse’ book presents the distinction between the real and trivial mathematics, and how much of it has the value. Hardy’s best work, he adds in the apology, was done in collaboration with Littlewood, and in 1913, when he discovered Ramanujan.
It is never worth a first class man’s to express a majority opinion. By definition, there are plenty others to that – G.H. Hardy.
To me, the book title, the tipping point, is misleading. Much of the book deviates from the main course – stressing on examples for examples. Malcolm Gladwell discusses the discordant incidents which, to me, sounded irrelevant to the ‘title of the book’. A prosaic and dull book – I now wonder what had tipped this book to become an international number one bestseller! A black swan, perhaps…
Ronnie in this book, shares his entrepreneurial journey that spans twenty five years. The UTV founder sprinkled some ideas for the young entrepreneurs about the potential and the untapped areas in Indian market that could benefit the country. However, I find this book little soporific and lackluster; also, I suppose there is still a room for improvement in the way the book is presented!
It’s a gripping account of the fallibities the surgeon make in the operating room. Atul Gawande provides unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge, where the information is limited, stakes are high, and yet decisions must be made. He shares some jaw-dropping anecdotes from his term as a resident. Gawande reveals how daily mistakes occur, and why good surgeon go bad. He further adds, that human beings, in some respects, permanently mysterious! no human is quite like any other human, and hence, Complications!
Every animal with blood in its veins and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How much more so will man, who carries in his breast the faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! The 2500 year old classic, The Art of War, which was revered by the Chinese, is a compendium of military science. In my opinion, this book can be condensed into one saying — If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle…by Sun Tzu, a philosopher and a great general!
|A very profound and an engrossing book on spirituality. Insights drawn in this book, Awareness, might descend into your roots and shake them in their clinging to conditioning, addictions and attachments. Anthony de Mello’s message to the reader is that –change comes through awareness, awareness alone; and not by changing your exterior world i.e., through getting a new job or a new spouse or a new home, etc. That would be like imagining that you change your handwriting by changing the pen. However, I find the book a bit repetitive. A good read, though. So, wake up! as the author says, it is your wake-up call!|
Prophet – The gates of my heart were flung open, and joy flew far above everything while I read this book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It speaks to us of marriage, children, giving, reason and passion, love, self-knowledge, etc. It was said wisdom is not transferable, but these songs, musings try to offer reader wisdom, truth. Ay, having read this offerings, I say not, ‘I have found the truth’, but rather, ‘I have found a truth!
Randy Pausch in his book, the last lecture, tells the reader that he likes ‘clichés’; perhaps, because of his proclivity towards cliché, the book, in my opinion, stands out to be cliché. In other words, the book is more of empty flattering rather than a book of substance; it is just a short memoir of a person named Randy Pausch,who was stricken with pancreatic cancer
This book discusses the Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism. Bertrand Russell advocates his belief in this book that communal ownership of land and capital, which constitutes the characteristic doctrines of Socialism and Anarchist Communism, is a necessary step towards the removal of the evils from which the world suffers today; and finally, the road to all that is best is the road to freedom!
Books I have read in 2015
Four thousand million years ago molecules with the power to make copies of themselves first appeared on this planet. What was to be the fate of these ancient replicators? Yes, this book ostensibly talks about the evolution; it discusses the altruistic and selfish behaviors of the gene. Ever wondered why parents show altruism towards their children? Dawkins puts this elegantly – it is perhaps because of the selfishness of the genes to prosper long-way in the future. I’d not say it is intriguing, but it is worth to read to get some insights about the evolution!
George Orwell had penned this book in 1943 as a tirade against the Soviet Union. To me, at first, this book sounded like an allegoric story aimed at toddlers – like a story intended to lull a child to sleep. But nevertheless, I was completely engrossed in reading this book. It serves as an exemplary metaphor to the world we live in – it illuminates the range of human experience from love to hate from comedy to tragedy!
This book chronicles the journey of an exuberant and acutely observant 23-year-old young guy who decided to go off exploring the world.
It is not about Che Guevearas’ philosophies, and ideas that associated himself in the later part of his life.
Also, this book reminds me of the book ‘zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’, which however imbues some philosophical aspects of life…
Having read these two books – and as I write this review – I knew I’d be writing a travelogue in the near future….!
A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics : unpredictable; carries a massive impact; and to know the third – better read the book.
Perhaps because of an anachronistic read – I found this book a bit soporific, and dull. Michael Dell, in this book, completely fixated with costumers’ products and services – and discusses nothing beyond that arena. The first not so good entrepreneur book I ever read.
This book presents Jeff Bezos’ feverish dreams and his goal of Amazon becoming the everything store. After having read this book, I feel sympathy for the employees of the Amazon, a missionary and mercenary company!
Cosmos — A gorgeous book in every possible way. Carl Sagan makes the astronomy and the math and the mind-boggling complexity of the universe not only comprehensible but palatable. He wraps up our history as a species into the history of the universe. This read made me feel like a mote of dust in the cosmic ocean….also, humility…..
Tuesdays with Morrie is a magical chronical of their time together. This beautifully written and short autobiography presents ideas that are poignant, sweet and thought-provoking. Sprinkled with mildly heartbreaking elements.
This is the story of an old Cuban fisherman who had gone eighty-four days without making a catch and of what happened when he hooked a monster marlin on the eighty- fifth day. Alone in his little skiff, unable to fasten the line because the giant fish would break it if he did not lessen the strain with his own body and pay out more line when necessary, the old man endured days and nights of hunger, exhaustion and pain from the line cutting his hands. And finally he caught the fish and lashed it to the side of his skiff only to spend his return voyage fighting off sharks. Besides, it is also compendium of some nice quotes.
“But man is not made for defeat, a man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
“Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?”
The book is, as the title says, about Zen and about motorcycle maintenance, but it is also about a unification of spiritual feeling and technological thought. Part of it discusses that the division between these is a deep root of the discontent of our age, and it offers some heterodox solutions.
The book offers another, more serious alternative to material success. It’s not so much an alternative as an expansion of the meaning of success to something larger than just getting a good job and staying out of trouble. And also something larger than mere freedom. It gives a positive goal to work toward that does not confine.
Richard Branson an iconic entrepreneur, founder of Virgin group – shares many inspiring and wonderful anecdotes from his life as an entrepreneur. This book spans from brand, delivery, innovation, entrepreneurship to social responsibility (well, they are actually chapters of this book). The take away from this book is that in business, as in life, one has to protect against the downside – and make a difference!
The brave may not live forever – but the cautious do not live at all….!
Thousand Splendid Suns — One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.
Finally, a good book, a powerful portrait of female suffering and endurance under the Taliban.
This is one of the best bios I ever read so far; it did take much time to complete it as I read it sporadically. Isaacson has done an outstanding job in writing an unflinching biography of manifestly the greatest CEO’s of my era. Steve, a perfectionist, a great craftsman, and a family man, too (which I didn’t know until I read this book)! This book is a captivating account of a digital visionary whose products have enthralled millions of people. I guess I am now scrambling for words to describe his passion, which is ineffable. In a nutshell, it is a riveting and worth reading this book.
Books I have read in 2014
Well, this is my second book that I read on neuroscience after ‘phantoms in the brain’ by V.S Ramachandran. Half of the book is the same old story covered perhaps in any that discusses brain. And the rest of the book discusses how neuroscience can be used in criminal cases and in culpability. David Eagleman rubs the nose of neuroscientists who takes reductionism to explain the complex beast. Reductionism, however, has been the engine of science since before the Renaissance, is not the right viewpoint for everything. In short, this book discusses how outlandish and what a perplexing master piece the brain is…
First poetry book I ever read. Rabindra rachanavali starts with
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands
my little heart loses its limits in joy
and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me
only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest,
and still there is room to fill.
This book engrossed me completely as Tagore compares God to mother earth in an enthralling way. Gorgeously written!
The God Father :
Reading fiction is not my cup of tea, and moreover, reading a colossal fiction book such as the god father is indeed difficult. Perhaps, I might be the only soul known who showed apathy towards the so called ‘Classic book’. Not to mention this is my second fiction book that I have ever read after the chronicles of death foretold by Garcia.
It is an allegorical novel written by Herman Hesse. Again, this is the first book I ever read something of that sort. It is a well written book, and is about a young man who embarks on journey that takes him from the austerities of renunciation to the profligacy of wealth, that eventually leads him to a range of human experiences. A journey that leads him to a river where he gains peace and finally wisdom.
“Adage: Knowledge is transferable but not the Wisdom.”
This is the first book I ever read something related to business. Bruce Poon provides a new flavor of tourism/travelling. He bridged the gap between the mainstream travelers and backpackers through G Adventures by providing the sustainability to the locals of the visiting place. It redefined the concept of traveling; he believed that traveling is all about exploring and learning people customs, tradition by leaving the “comfort zone, and not a status quo”. He also believed in ‘Karma’ paying it forward. Poon Tip has created an entirely new refreshing approach to the management. At G Adventures, Poon gave up his title ‘CEO’ and gave all the customer-facing employing the title ‘CEO (Chief Experience Officer) instead.
Finally, it is a must read book for people who want to revolutionize and change the world.
Firstly, this book was gifted to me by my friend Murali!
Secondly, coming to the book; on a philosophical note, Richard Bach provides insights of illusions that people have created. It presents that reality is an illusion, and people do not require airplanes or such things to soar; after all, messiah is inside them.
Finally, in short, this book is a compendium of life quotes which are too deep to understand.
One such quote is: “Here is a test to find whether your mission to Earth is finished; If you are alive it isn’t”.
Strogatz exposes how synchronization shows up in the universe; for example, how, in congregation, the fire flies flash in unison, and how our sleep cycle struggles for sync. This book discusses the sync from atoms to electric currents to our brain. Much of the book spans science and mathematics. It also delves into the situations/conditions for sync to happen. Elegantly written but soporific at times during the read, yet readable.
This fable of ‘Jonathan’ a Seagull is an exemplary metaphor for those who follow their dreams/goals, and make their own rules; no matter even if it is contrary to the norms of the normal flock (hordes of folks)!
Take away from this is life has no limitations, but unlimited freedom. Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you.
All they show is limitation; look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you will see yourself soar!
Fermat’s Last Theorem is a problem which confounded the best mathematicians ever known such as Euler, Hilbert, Hardy, Cauchy, et al., for around 350 years; albeit, the problem is unambiguous and looks vulnerable unlike any other math problem. This books discusses the evolution of mathematics in number theory which dates back to Babylonian and Pythagorean’s age; also, it chronicles the life of Andrew Wiles who lived his dream of solving the 300 year old problem, which further led to invention of modern mathematics that could prove other theorems.
Femat’s problem: For x^n + y^n =z^n, there exits ‘n’ an whole number not greater than 2 and no solution otherwise.
“Proof is an idol before which the mathematics tortures himself” –Sir Arthur Eddington.
“God made the integers; all the rest is the work of man”—Kronecker.
It is indeed a magisterial work by Guha. A colossal book that chronicles the facade of India after the assassination of Gandhi by Godse. It portrays the repercussions that had happened during the partition, scuffle with the refugees from west and east pakistan. The hassle with Nagas, Kashmir, princely states and the experience of defeat with China under the regime of the then revered prime minister Nehru is well articulated. Also, It talks profusely on the descendants of Nehru, the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, the debacle of Congress thereafter, death of her younger son, blue star operation. And, finally, Why India Survives!
It is a must read book to understand the history of world’s largest democracy.
Mary Kom: This autobiography of Mary Kom clouded my eyes with tears while reading first couple of chapters, I must say. The perseverance, struggle of Mary Kom with her destitute background is heart breaking. The support she got from her husband to pursue her career in boxing, her husband looking after the chores and children is heartening.
This is well written piece….It is about a person who is black returned from militarily and hunting for a job. During his hunt, he has been rejected albeit he has amazing credentials just because of his color. As there is saying, this time shall pass, in his story too, it did pass and he bags a teacher post in a school teaching boisterous students. The way he deals with the students and how he gained their attention, love…is to sir with love….! a marvel piece…
Chronicles of death foretold: It is the first book that I read by a noble laureate in literature. It did take a couple of readings for me to understand this, I must say. That said, it is a great book which speaks of mysterious death of a young man….
This is the first ever book I read …….It is another marvel piece….It is on the functioning of the brain, and how one could deceive/convince the brain your left to right and vice-versa… by doing so, the pain in the amputated limb can be alleviated…